Hofstede and de Waal on Masculinity

by | Mar 17, 2024 | 0 comments

From: If you want to build bridges, you have to know where the shorelines are,

Frans de Waal looked at the nature of the role of biological sex and the nature of gender in humans by looking at the behavior of non-human primates. He observed that in the other primates, too, you can speak of gender because they learn certain aspects of their sexualities from each other. For example, the young males watch the adult males and the young females watch the adult females and follow their example. There is also a cultural transmission of how you behave as a male and female. In that sense, gender is a concept that can also be applied to other species.                                                                                                                          There is evidence that there is biased learning going on.  For example, research on orangutans in the forest showed that young females eat exactly the same foods as their Mothers. But young males vary. They sometimes eat foods that the mother never touches. That’s because their models are the adult males they see eating occasionally.

De Waal makes a few points:                                                                                                “There is as much gender diversity in other primates as in humans. Homosexual behavior is very common in primates. I usually call bonobos “bisexual” because I don’t think they make a big distinction between whether they have sex with a male or female. All the gender diversity that we have in human society, transgender people and homosexual orientation, and so on, we can see in the other primates. The interesting part is that they have no trouble with it. I’ve never noticed that they exclude an individual because of this. The tolerance level is a lot higher than in most human societies. But the variation is very similar.”                           Sex is mostly binary: 99% of individuals are either male or female and there’s a small slice of individuals in between. There are universal sex differences, which we see in all human and primate societies. It’s very hard to argue with some biological background. For example, all young males and primates (including human boys) like to wrestle when they’re young; they like mock fighting, running around, and trying to wrestle each other down. In the young primates, this is a very big bias; the males like to do that and the females don’t like to do that, necessarily. That’s why females often play separately from males. Another thing that’s universal in play behavior is that young females are more interested in infants and dolls in primate and human societies. If you give a doll to a group of chimps, a female will alwayspick it up and care for it. If a male picks it up, he may take it apart and look inside the doll to see what’s in there. But the females will put it on their belly and back, walk around, and care for it. They do the same thing with the infants of other females. The interest of young females in infancy is also a universal human bias, primate bias, and it’s fairly logical because later in life, they will care for offspring for most of their life.                                                                                                                                               Biology or culture? People want to choose between biology and culture. And that’s why you get these discussions with people who say gender is all cultural. There is nothing that is all cultural. That doesn’t exist. Because what is culture? Culture is us influencing each other and we are biological organisms, biological organisms affecting other biological organisms—automatically, biology is in there. There is no pure culture. It doesn’t exist. There is no pure biology either. That doesn’t exist. And that’s why, in biology, we don’t speak about instincts anymore in animals, because everything an animal does is influenced by how it grew up and what it learned in its lifetime, and so on. And so there is no pure biology either. So people want to choose between the two. And they have a false sense of security that they can do that, but you cannot. And so everything we do is influenced by two factors, the environment and our genes, and by the interaction between the two.                                                        Masculinity and Femininity is a cultural construct. De Waal: “I usually divide it not by male and female but by masculine and feminine and everything in between. It’s an extremely variable concept. And as I said, it’s probably applicable to other primates, though maybe less well than in humans. But in humans, it is very important to distinguish those two. Gender has to do with how you express your sexuality, your sex role, and how much you follow or don’t follow the dictates of your culture.” But there is a flexibility that can also be seen in the other primates. De Waal givers following example, “chimpanzees and bonobo males, they don’t do anything with the young. The females do everything. The males may occasionally protect them, but that’s all they do. But we know that if a mother loses her life in the forest, and suddenly there is an orphan, we know that sometimes males pick up these orphans and carry them. They adopt them and not just for a couple of days. High-ranking males, like alpha males, may adopt a baby chimp and take care of it for five years. It’s not always expressed, but they have that tendency and that capacity.”

Subconscious learning and biases.  Hofstede talks about subconscious learning. De Waal explains it by biased learning: it is aroused more by familiar and similar individuals. In humans, that means individuals of your culture, language, color, etc. We do empathy studies on all sorts of animals nowadays and they always have this social bias built in, which means it’s hard to generate empathy for individuals who are quite different from you, who are distant, who are a different ethnic group, or speak a different language. Then it becomes more difficult for you. But the fact that we have it is really important. And once you have empathy, the capacity for it, you can try to expand it mentallyto expand the rules for in our human moral systems. That’s a cognitive capacity that we have and that’s why we try to do things like that.


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